tv PBS News Hour PBS March 28, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm PDT
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> ifill: rebel troops clashed with libyan forces, as they took the battle west toward moammar qaddafi's home town of sirte. good evening. i'm gwen ifill. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. on the newshour tonight, we get the latest on the allied air power assisting the opposition and the new momentum of the rebel advance, retaking key towns along the northern coast. >> ifill: and in a speech to the nation tonight, president obama defends u.s. involvement. >> brown: plus, we update the spiraling nuclear crisis in japan, where new radiation levels have been found in the air, seawater, and soil around the fukushima plant. >> ifill: and ray suarez talks to marcia coyle about today's supreme court free speech arguments involving a campaign finance law in arizona.
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weekend, behind a curtain of coalition air strikes. we have a report from outside sirte from lindsey hilsum of independent television news. >> reporter: they're fighting just east of sirte, colonel qaddafi's birth place. the rebels who swept up the road yesterday found his tanks waiting for them today. rumors have spread that sirte fell in the night but qaddafi's forces are making a stand in what he calls the political capital of africa. we drove past the oil towns. if they hold on to them, the rebels could start exporting crude oil again. they have petrol but no power so the pumps don't work. they call this fishing for gas. it's free. the petrol station's contribution to the revolution. the momentum is with the rebels, but only because of the allied air strikes.
the air is thick with smoke. an electrical cable has been hit. that's what is pumping that black plume into the air. we can hear the occasional thump of the allied air strikes coming in a few kilometers down the road. that's where colonel qaddafi and his armor are. that's where these rebels are heading now. some seem to be taking it easy. but most are keen to move ahead just hoping for more allied air strikes. >> this would be a big help for us. it's very important. otherwise, you know, because the tanks are down there. so if it weren't for the tanks we would keep going. it would be more easier for us. >> reporter: they fan out searching for any of qaddafi's soldiers who might still be lurking, ready to fight. a few yards to the side of the road in the desert, a rebel shows me the identity card of a qaddafi stoldier he says they captured.
as in the midst of this we came across two from manchester trying to get to miss rat a where their family is stranded. >> trying to get in contact with my mom and dad and everybody else. what are you going to do? you have to find out what's going on. i carry no arms. like everybody else. just go with the flow. >> reporter: misrata is still in qaddafi's hands. they've heard nothing from friends or family for more than three weeks. >> i have friends of mine. >> reporter: one family's story among thousands. in a country full of uncertainty where no one can be sure what the next day will bring. >> brown: the rebel gains >> brown: the rebel gains raised new questions about the extent of the coalition's military mission. russian foreign minister sergey lavrov charged the campaign has
gone well beyond protecting civilians, as the u.n. authorized. . >> reports are coming and no one denies them on coalition air force strikes against qaddafi's columns of troops. and reports about the support of the actions of the armed insurgents. there's a clear contradiction here. we believe that interference of the coalition in the internal, as a matter of fact, civil war has not been sanctioned by the u.n. security council resolution. >> ifill: in response, nato's military commander for libya insisted the purpose of the air strikes is unchanged. the alliance agreed on sunday to take control of the libyan operation from the u.s., britain, and france. meanwhile, army general carter ham of the u.s. africa command warned qaddafi's forces could still roll back the rebels, if the air strikes stopped. at a pentagon briefing, vice admiral bill gortney reinforced that view. >> clearly the opposition is not
well organized, and it is not a very robust organization. i mean, that's obvious. so any gain that they make is tenuous based on that. i mean, it's... clearly they're achieving a benefit from the actions that we're taking. we're not coordinating with it. but i think general ham's assessment is pretty good. >> ifill: and in another development, the persian gulf state of qatar formally recognized the rebels as the legitimate representatives of libya. it was the first arab government to take that step. >> brown: still to come on the newshour, new findings of radioactive material around japan's fukushima plant; and supreme court arguments about campaign financing. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: unrest gripped syria again today, with security forces confronting new protests. the troops used tear gas and fired into the air to disperse crowds. some 4,000 people demonstrated
in daraa, where the protests began more than a week ago. there was also more trouble in the port city of latakia, as armed groups for and against the government faced off. officials said syrian president bashir assad could address the nation as early as tuesday to ease a nearly 50-year state of emergency. in yemen, a powerful explosion at a weapons factory killed at least 78 people. it happened in abyan province in the south. the blast appeared to be accidental, but it came one day after islamic militants took over the factory and the nearby town of jaar. government forces had pulled back, as protests spread. and there were more protests today in the capital city, sanaa. thousands of demonstrators again demanded that president ali abdullah saleh step down. some 250 people have been detained since a crackdown in bahrain this month, and more than 40 are missing. shiite opposition leaders reported those figures today, and said they've doubled since last week. the kingdom's sunni rulers
dismissed appeals for an international human rights investigation. and police insisted their tight control of the streets is essential. >> for the person who does not violate any law or who does not commit any crime, the checkpoints do not concern him. quite the opposite, it reassures their security. it is more safety on the road. as the saying goes, "if you don't steal, you won't fear." as long as you don't commit any crime, you will be passed through the checkpoint with a good heart. >> sreenivasan: bahrain is now under martial law. and roughly 1,000 troops from saudi arabia and other sunni- ruled states are deployed in the country. taliban suicide bombers attacked a construction company in afghanistan today. they shot their way into a compound, blew up a truck loaded with explosives and killed 23 people. nearly 60 others were wounded. and in pakistan, militants killed 11 government soldiers in an ambush near the afghan border. a saudi arabian man has pleaded not guilty in texas to charges he plotted to blow up targets in texas and new york city.
khalid aldawsari was arraigned in federal court in lubbock today. he'd been a college student there when he was arrested in february. agents traced online purchases of explosive chemicals and found a makeshift lab in his apartment. if convicted, aldawsari faces a possible life sentence. the trial is set for may 2. in economic news, consumer spending rose last month, but, the commerce department said much of the gain went to pay sharply higher gasoline prices. and on wall street, stocks began the week on a losing note. the dow jones industrial average lost more than 22 points to close below 12,198. the nasdaq fell 12 points to close at 2730. germany chancellor angela merkel played down a stinging election defeat today tied to the nuclear scare in japan. on sunday, the anti-nuclear greens won power in a state where merkel's christian democrats had governed since 1958. voter fears over what's happened in japan was the dominant issue. before the election, merkel had ordered a review of nuclear power in germany.
she said today the review will go forward. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to jeff. >> brown: japan's nuclear troubles grew worse still today, even as confirmed deaths from the earthquake and tsunami topped 11,000. officials reported radioactive water has spread beyond a damaged reactor building, and radiation has also gotten into the ground. smoke rising from parts of the fukushima dai-ichi plant was the most visible sign of ongoing trouble, but the real threat lay beyond public view at unit 2 highly radioactive water, first discovered last week, has now escaped the reactor containment building. it was found today in deep utility trenches used for pipes and wiring with an opening just 180 feet from the sea. water has also pooled inside the reactor's basement where radiation levels were measured at 100,000 times above normal. the japanese government acknowledged its likely the
reactor suffered a partial meltdown. in fact, on sunday the radiation level was initially reported to be even worse. >> the water contains 10 million times the usual level of radioactive substances. >> brown: hours later the tokyo electric power company said it had miscalculated and apologized. but the mistake forced employees to flee unit 2 for hours on sunday and interrupted their efforts to jump-start cooling systems. today the government's chief cabinet secretary sharply criticized the utility. >> the measurement of radiation is necessary to secure various aspects of safety at the plant. so these kinds of mistakes cannot be forgiven. >> brown: the problem was not confined to unit 2. workers found reactors 1 and 3 also have radioactive water in their utility trenches. the radiation levels though were significantly lower than at unit 2. but all tolled, it left crews with an enormous job, trying
to remove the hundreds of tons of contaminated water. meanwhile officials announced plutonium has been detected in soil outside the fukushima complex. they insisted the amounts were too small to be a risk to public health. and contamination in sea water was spreading just off shore. japan's nuclear safety agency said there's no immediate health risk because a fishing ban is in effect. amid the rising radiation fears the government urged people not to return to areas near the plant though some have gone back to pick up belongings. we take a closer look now at the situation at the japan reactors and the threats posed by the released radiation. james acton is a physicist who works at the nuclear policy at the carnegie endowment for international peace. and david brenner, director of the center for radiological research at columbia university. james acton, i'll start with you. what do we know about this new
problem of contaminated water outside the reactor and how serious is it? >> it's serious for a couple of reasons. it doesn't actually surprise me that they're finding very large quantities of radioactive water because they've been pumping huge quantities of water into the system. that water has got to go somewhere. the radioactive water there found inside the place is serious because it will complicate the relief effort. the radioactive water they found in the trenches is serious because if they don't pump that quickly into a storage facility there's a chance it will leak out and increase the radiation in the environment. >> brown: just to try to make this complicated equation clear, they now have a process where they have to pump water in to cool off the fuel rods, but they also have to pump out the contaminated water somewhere, to some safe place. >> that's exactly right. i mean, if you think back a couple of weeks to where this crisis started, it started with this race to cool down the fuel rods. they've been doing that by pumping in a lot of sea water and then more recently fresh water. but that water has to go
somewhere. at the moment it's just leaking out into buildings and these trenches. now they have to pump that back in to an area within the plant that they've identified for storage. >> brown: do we know where this contaminated water comes from? you're saying it might come from the water that is is actually being pumped in? >> i think that's where it has to come from. the big question is where is the leak in the system? on friday the japanese authorities reported they were concerned that there was a leak in the reactor pressure. that turns out probably almost certainly not to be wrong. and in this very complicated series of high tech that comes out from the reactor pressure vessels, somewhere in that complicated series of piping there appears to be a leak or leaks. the utility apparently doesn't know where that leak is coming from. >> brown: david brenner in the meantime we have these conflicting very confusing reports on the levels of radiation this weekend. what do we know right now and where do you see the current danger?
>> well, it's distinguished between the radiation levels inside the reactor itself and those of the general population outside are being exposed to. so if we start with the situation outside the reactor, what we've been seeing over the past few days is a steady decrease in radiation exposure levels from a week ago until today. steadily got smaller and smaller which is pleasing and really does reflect the way the wind is blowing as much as anything. the wind is still blowing the radioactivity towards the sea. the situation for the nuclear workers inside the plant, well, that's a different story. it's pretty clear that they are being exposed to high doses of radiation, and we certainly hope not fatal doses. but what they're doing, it would appear, is actually having more workers now than they did a week ago. so they're trying to spread the radiation dose among more
people so that any given person has a lower radiation dose. i'll still very concerned about the long-term issues for the actual radiation workers. i think we could be looking at some serious injuries. >> brown: when... how long is it before you know, before something like that takes effect? >> well, in terms of the worst possible scenario which is mortality, it's typically 30 to 60 days would be the time scale, but i think we would know beforehand whether people were exposed to lethal doses. that's how long it takes for it to happen. >> brown: now, staying with you, and going now outside the reactor to the new reports of radiation in the ground and spreading at sea. now you started to talk a little bit about the impact of that. but fresh that out a little bit for us. how dangerous is it when it goes into the soil and also into... more into the ocean, spreading in the ocean?
>> well, two different situations. it really depends on what something that we don't know quite now is how much radioactivity is being deposited in the sea or in the ground. i think the short-term issues are actually quite small in terms of public health. but we have much more important long-term issues that we're going to face. the dominant radio isotopes will be radioactivity cesium. that has a laugh life of decades so we're really talking about some exposure to the environment for really a generation or more to come. how important that is really depends on how much radioactivity gets into the environment. that we really don't know at this point. but the short-term issues i think are not so important for the general population. the exposures that people are getting short term over the next days or even weeks, as it stands at the moment, are
relatively small. >> brown: james acton, just to help us think about where we're at and what may come about mid or longer term, what does it mean when the authorities tell us that it's likely that there has been a partial meltdown. remind us, what exactly does that mean? >> well, jeff, when you turn off a nuclear reactor, as it were, the fuel rods still generate heat and remain hot. and so you've got to keep those fuel rods cool. if you don't keep them cool then they to melt. that melting lies along a spectrum really. you could have a tiny bit of fuel melting. all the way through to all of the fuel melting. we know that there has been a partial meltdown. that is to say that some of the fuel within the core has melted. but not all of it. part of the difficulty the operators face is you can't just flip the lid on a nuclear reactor and look inside. we don't actually know how much of the fuel has melted. or indeed many of the other
conditions in the core right now. >> brown: david brenner, i want to ask you about the other new report today which is the plutonium found in the ground. what does that tell you? what's the connection here if any? >> well, there are various sources that the plutonium could have come from. i think we're relieved that the levels are actually very low. and actually typical of natural plutonium contamination in this country. so right now we don't have to worry about any biological consequences of that plutonium. there's a very small amount of it. >> brown: so, do we... are we looking-- i'll start with you on this, david brenner. are we looking at days, weeks, months? i mean you were talking about not knowing about the impact for years. but when you think about the new issues that have been raised, particularly the water outside the reactor, what are we looking at here? >> well, in terms of the workers inside the power
plant-- and i must stress again that these are incredibly brave people because they are going into a situation where there is a great deal of potential for harm. this is a short-term issue. they've being exposed to moderate doses or perhaps even high doses of radiation right now. and the issues are short-term. on the point of view of everybody else outside the plant, there are short-term issues to do with the radiation exposure in the next week or two. again as far as we can tell, the extensive measurements that we have would suggest that the risks are not so large. but we are faced with a lower level, much longer-term issue of exposure to the general population over the next few decades. >> brown: let me ask you, james acton, briefly again, the same sort of thing. when you look at the potential forgetting this under control, are we talking days, weeks, months, longer? what do you look at? >> the longer this crisis goes
on for it's become clear the longer it will take for them to get it under control. what they need to do now is clear out all the radioactive from the holds, reconnect the power where it hasn't yet been reconnected, repair the cooling systems where they've been damaged and then get those cooling systems operational. if there's no major setback, i think realistically that process will take at least a few weeks. but if they encounter new setbacks and new problems which unfortunately is a distinct possibility, then it could take significantly longer to get this crisis under control. >> brown: all right. well, i want to thank you both very much for the update. james acton, david brenner, thanks a lot. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> ifill: now, the u.s. supreme court weighs in on public funding for state political campaigns, and to ray suarez. >> suarez: justices waded back in to the hot-button topic of campaign finance today, for the first time since last year's
controversial ruling to allow corporations and unions to spend freely on national campaigns. at issue today is the constitutionality of an arizona law and its formula for providing public financing to political candidates. marcia coyle of the "national law journal" walks us through today's arguments. marcia, it's actually two joined cases. how did arizona free enterprise club versus bennett and... make it to the high court. >> it involves arizona's public financing law. under that law if a candidate qualifies and wants to participate, the candidate receives a lump sum grant at the beginning of the primary or general election. if during the campaign that grant is exceeded by a non-participating opponent's contributions and independent spending by organizations or groups supporting that non-participating opponent, then it triggers matching funds. the matching funds though are capped by the law. the publicly financed
candidate can never receive more than three times the initial grant. a lower court upheld the constitutionality of the law, and it was the arizona freedom pack that brought the challenge as well as several candidates in arizona in the second case that brought the challenge to the supreme court today. >> suarez: is it not public financing per se, as much as the connection between having your money go up, if privately financed candidates raise more money that's attracted all this opposition? >> that's exactly it, ray. the challengers here are not questioning the constitutionality of public financing. they're questioning the matching funds trigger. >> suarez: how did the lawyers arguing against the bill back up their contention that it's unconstitutional? >> william mayer of the institute for justice was representing the challengers. he said that the law violates... the matching funds trigger violates the first amendment because it kills speech.
his clients either refrain from or delay spending money out of fear that they will trigger matching funds for the participating candidate that opposes them. >> suarez: do they have to provide any evidence that it was so, that candidates would raise less money for fear of their opponents getting more public funding? >> he claims in the lower court records there was evidence of some who did refrain or wait until the last minute of a campaign to spend. that was disputed by the opposing lawyer who was defending the law here. that was bradley phillips. he said that this law does not kill speech. in fact, it increases speech. by providing the matching funds... the matching funds ensures that a publicly financed candidate has sufficient money to be competitive. that's more speech not less speech. >> suarez: as the justices quizzed the lawyers, what part of the argument seemed to catch their interest?
>> they really focused on how much of a burden, if there is a burden at all, is the matching funds provision on the non- participating candidate or independent spending groups? justices kagan, sotamayor and ginsberg seemed skeptical that there was a burden here and they asked the lawyer challenging the law, what exactly is the burden? is it that you delay spending because you choose to delay? he said no, the burden is substantial and the burden is that his clients are coerced into not speaking. on the other side though, chief justice roberts, justices kennedy and alito, they pressed the lawyer defending the law, mr. phillips, on why that isn't a substantial burden. the chief justice said, for example, isn't it just a matter of common sense that if i want to spend $10,000 and i know that that $10,000 is going to trigger
$10,000 for my opponent or maybe $20,000 or $30,000 depending on how many publicly financed candidates there are in my campaign, then i'm going to think twice before i spend it? mr. phillips said i might think twice but it's not a significant burden. he noted that two-thirds of arizona candidates do participate in the public financing, and he said that at the outset these candidates make a choice as to whether public financing will benefit them. >> suarez: janet napolitano who was governor of arizona once joked that george w. bush raised money for her by holding a very successful republican fund- raiser which in fact enriched her own campaign coffers because she was using the public financing. >> that's true. and the opponents of the law feel that it can be gained in certain ways. but the defenders would say that the benefits far outweigh it. the voters of arizona in 1998 passed a referendum that was in
reaction to one of the worst election-related scandals in the state's history. they see this law as essential to preventing corruption in campaigns. >> suarez: so this came out of an arizona corruption case. were the justices put in a position of deciding what's worse: political corruption or free speech in the form of campaign spending? >> i don't think it's a question of what's worse. i think if they ultimately believe-- and some questioned whether this law was designed to prevent corruption or, as the chief justice and justice kennedy indicated is, aren't we really here talking about leveling the playing field? which they have held is an impermissible goal under the first amendment. but i think what they're focused on and what they focus on in all of their campaign finance cases is, is there an i am permissible burden on speech here? are you discriminating at all on
the basis of the identity of the speaker or on the content of the speech? >> suarez: we've got about a minute left. if the justices side with the petitioners here and strike down the arizona law, what effect could that have on campaign finance laws in other states? >> well, it will have an immediate effect in probably... not only in arizona but on about nine other states and more than a dozen cities, municipalities, that have similar funding schemes. what the court says here will be very important as to how local government can continue to experiment with campaign finance systems that are designed to prevent the influence, the corrupting effect of big money in elections. and the court may also say something about public financing of elections in general. we'll just have to wait to see. >> suarez: marshal coyle of the "national journal," thanks for talking with us. >> my pleasure, ray. more on libya with president
obama's speech. we'll be back with that shortly. >> ifill: in a few moments the president will address the nation on american involvement in libya. for those stations just joining us, president obama is speaking from the campus of the national defense university at fort mcnair in washington d.c., ten days after the american military, nato and the arab league began enforcing a no fly zone over libya, the administration is mounting a full-scale defense of an action the president said again today will be limited both in time and scope. newshour political editor david chalian joins me to give us a sense of what the president thinks he needs to accomplish tonight. >> he has to answer three fundamental questions, gwen. he has to answer why are we involved in this military action in libya. he has to say what are the next steps now that we're moving into this support role
supposedly going forward? and the third question he has to answer is what if qaddafi stays since he has stated the country's policy as qaddafi has to go. >> ifill: does he have to make each of those cases or can he just make one of them tonight, basically making the case for why we're there but not have to make the case as to what happened next. >> most important for him he needs to leave the country with a message that this is not iraq or afghanistan not a third full-blown war in a muslim country the kind his own defense secretary said a president would have to have his head examined if he got involved. >> ifill: it has only been ten days since the first bombs began to fall in libya in an effort to make this coalition work. how much has the president and his administration gotten themselves together? you ask this question later. because here is the president of the united states. >> tonight i'd like to update the american people on the international effort that we
have led in libya. what we've done, what we plan to do and why this matters to us. i want to begin by paying tribute to our men and women in uniform. who once again have acted with courage, professionalism, and patriotism. they have moved with incredible speed and strength. because of them, and our dedicated diplomats, a coalition has been forged and countless lives have been saved. meanwhile as we speak, our troops are supporting our ally japan, leaving iraq to its people, stopping the taliban's momentum in afghanistan, and going after al qaeda all across the globe. as commander in chief, i am grateful for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines,
coast guardsmen, and to their families. i know all americans share in that sentiment. for generations, the united states of america has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom. mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges. but when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. that's what's happened in libya over the course of these last six weeks. libya sits directly between tunisia and egypt. two nations that inspired the world when their people rose up to take control of their own destiny. for more than four decades, the libyan people have been
ruled by a tyrant, moammar qaddafi. he has denied his people freedom. exploited their wealth. murdered opponents at home and abroad and terrorized innocent people around the world. including americans who were killed by libyan agents. last month qaddafi's grip of fear appeared to give way to the promise of freedom. and cities and towns across the country, libyans took to the streets to claim their basic human rights. as one libyan said, for the first time we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over. faced with this opposition, qaddafi began attacking his people. as president, my immediate concern was the safety of our citizens so we evacuated our embassy and all americans who sought our assistance.
when we took a series of swift steps in a matter of days to answer qaddafi's aggression. we froze more than $33 billion of qaddafi's regime's assets. joining with other nations and the united nations security council, we broaden broadened our sanctions, imposed an arms embargo and enabled qaddafi and those around him to be held accountable for their crimes. i made it clear that qaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead. and i said to he needed to step down from power. in the face of the world's condemnation, qaddafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the libyan people. innocent people were targeted for killing. hospitals and ambulances were attacked.
journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. supplies of food and fuel were choked off. water for hundreds of thousands of people in misrata was shut off. cities and towns were shelled, mosques were destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. military jets and helicopters' gun ships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assaults from the air. confronted by this brutal repression and a looming humanitarian crisis, i ordered warships into the mediterranean. european allies declared their willingness to commit resources to stop the killing. the libyan opposition and the arab league appealed to the world to save lives in libya. and so at my direction, america led an effort with our
allies at the united nations security council to pass an historic resolution that authorized a no fly zone to stop regime's attacks from the air and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the libyan people. ten days ago, having tried to end the violence without using force, the international community offered qaddafi a final chance to stop his campaign of killing or face the consequences. rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance. bearing down on the city of benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women, and children who sought their freedom from fear. at this point, the united states and the world faced a choice. qaddafi declared he would show no mercy to his own people. he compared them to rats and
threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. in the past we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over a thousand people in a single day. now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. we knew that if we wanted... if we waited one more day, benghazi, a city nearly the size of charlotte, would suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. it was not in our national interest to left that happen. i refused to let that happen. and so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of congress, i authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce u.n. security council resolution 1973.
we struck regime forces approaching benghazi to save that city and the people within it. we hit qaddafi's troops in neighboring ajdabiya allowing the opposition to drive them out. we hit qaddafi's air defenses which paved the way for a no fly zone. we targeted tanks and military assets that had been choking off towns and cities and we cut off much of their source of supply. and tonight i can report that we have stopped qaddafi's deadly advance. in this effort, the united states has not acted alone. instead, we have been joined by a strong and growing coalition. this includes our closest allies, nations like the united kingdom, france, canada, denmark, norway, italy, spain, greece, and turkey.
all of whom have fought by our sides for decades. and it includes arab partners like qatar and the united arab emirates who have chosen to meet their responsibilities to defend the libyan people. to summarize then, in just one month, the united states has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advance army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no fly zone with our allies and partners. to lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together. when people were being brutalize in bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians. it took us 31 days.
moreover, we've accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that i made to the american people at the outset of our military operations. i said that america's role would be limited and that we would not put ground troops into libya, that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. tonight we are fulfilling that pledge. our most effective alliance, nato, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and the no fly zone. last night nato decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting libyan civilians. this transfer from the united states to nato will take place on wednesday. going forward, the lead in enforcing the no fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our
allies and partners. and i am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on qaddafi's remaining forces. in that effort, the united states will play a supporting role including intelligence, logistical support, search-and-rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications. because of this transition to a broader nato-based coalition, the risk of this operation to our military and to american tax payers will be reduced significantly. so for those who doubted our capacity to carry out this operation, i want to be clear. the united states of america has done what we said we would do. that's not to say that our work is complete. in addition to our nato responsibilities, we will work with the international community to provide assistance to the people of
libya who need food for the hungry and medical care for the wounded. we will safeguard the more than 33 billion dollars that was frozen from the qaddafi regime so that it's available to rebuild libya. after all, the money doesn't belong to qaddafi or to us. it belongs to the libyan people. we'll make sure they receive it. tomorrow secretary clinton will go to london where she will meet with the libyan opposition and consult with more than 30 nations. these discussions will focus on what kind of political effort is necessary to pressure qaddafi while also supporting a transition to the future that the libyan people deserve. because while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a libya that belongs not to a dictator but to its people.
now despite the success of our efforts over the past week, i know that some americans continue to have questions about our efforts in libya. qaddafi has not yet stepped down from power. until he does, libya will remain dangerous. moreover, even africa daffy does leave power, 40 years of tyranny has left libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. the transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the libyan people will be a difficult task. while the united states will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community. more importantly, a task for the libyan people themselves. in fact, much of the debate in washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to libya. on the one hand some question why america should intervene at all. even in limited ways.
in this distant land. they argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government. america should not be expected to police the world. particularly when we have so many pressing needs here at home. it's true. that america cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. but that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. in this particular country, libya, at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. we had a unique ability to stop that violence. an international mandate for action.
a broad coalition prepared to join us. the support of arab countries. and a plea for help from the libyan people themselves. we also had the ability to stop qaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting american troops on the ground. to brush aside america's responsibility as a leader and, more profoundly, our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. the united states of america is different. and as president, i refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action. moreover, america has an important strategic interest in preventing qaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him.
a massacre would have driven thousands of additional refuse refugees across libya's borders putting enormous strains on the peaceful yet fragile transition in egypt and tunisia. the democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. the risk of the united nations security council would have been shown to be little more than empty words crippling that institution's future corrode iblt to upload global peace and security. so while i will never minimize the cost involved in military action, i am convinced that a failure to act in libya would have carried a far greater price for america. now just as there are those
who have argued against intervention in libya, there are others who have suggested that we broadened our military mission beyond the task of protecting the libyan people and do whatever it takes to bring down qaddafi and usher in a new government. of course, there is no question that libya and the world would be better off with qaddafi out of power. i, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal. and will actively pursue it through non-military means. but broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake. the task that i assigned our forces-- to protect the libyan people from immediate danger and to establish a no fly zone-- carries with it a u.n. mandate and international support. it's also what the libyan opposition asked us to do.
if we tried to overthrow qaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. we would likely have to put u.s. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission. or risk killing many civilians from the air. the dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. so would the costs. and our share of the responsibility for what comes next. to be blunt, we went down that road in iraq. thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about iraq's future. but regime change there took eight years, thousands of american and iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. that is not something we can afford to repeat in libya. as the bulk of our military
efforts ratchets down, what we can do and will do is support the aspirations of the libyan people. we have intervened to stop a massacre. and we will work with our allies and partners to maintain the safety of civilians. we will deny the regime arms, cut off its supplies of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when qaddafi leaves power. it may not happen overnight. as a badly weakened qaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power. but it should be clear to those around qaddafi and to every libyan that history is not on qaddafi's side. with the time and space that we have provided for the libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny. and that is how it should be.
let me close by addressing what this action says about the use of america's military power and america's broader leadership in the world under my presidency. as commander in chief, i have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe. and no decision weighs on me more than when to deploy our men and women in uniform. i've made it clear that i will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests. that's why we're going after al qaeda wherever they seek a foothold. that is why we continue to fight in afghanistan, even as we have ended our combat mission in iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops from that country. there will be times though when our safety is not
directly threatened but our interests and our values are. sometimes the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security. spochbding to natural disasters, for example, or preventing genocide and keeping the peace, ensuring regional security and maintaining the flow of commerce. these may not be america's problems alone but they are important to us. they're problems worth solving. in these circumstances we know that the united states is the world's most powerful nation and will often be called upon to help. in such cases, we should not be afraid to act. but the burden of action should not be america's alone. as we have in libya, our task
is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action because contrary to the claims of some, american leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well, to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all. that's the kind of leadership we've shown in libya. of course even when we act as part of a coalition, the risks of any military action will be high. those risks were realized when one of our planes malfunctioned over libya. yet when one of our airmen
parachuted to the ground in a country whose leader has so often demonized the united states in a region that has such a difficult history with our country, this american did not find enemies. instead he was met by people who embraced him. one young libyan who came to his aid said, we are your friends. we are so grateful to those men who are protecting the skies. this voice is just one of many in a region where a new generation is refusing to be denied their rights and opportunities any longer. yes, this change will make the world more complicated for a time. progress will be uneven. and change will come differently to different countries. there are places like egypt where this change will inspire us. and raise our hopes.
and then there will be places like iran where change is fiercely suppressed. the dark forces of civil conflict and sectarian war will have to be averted and difficult political and economic concerns will have to be addressed. the united states will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change. only the people of the region can do that. but we can make a difference. i believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms. our opposition to violence directed at one's own people, our support for a set of universal rights including the freedom from people to express
themselves and choose their leaders, our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people. born as we are out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the middle east and north africa and that young people are leading the way. because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the united states. ultimately it is that faith, those ideals that are the true measure of american leadership. my fellow americans, i know that at a time of upheaval overseas when the news is filled with conflict and change, it can be tempting to turn away from the world.
and as i've said before, our strength abroad is anchored in our strength here at home. that must always be our north star. the ability of our people to reach their potential. to make wise choices with our resources. to enlarge the prosperity that serves as a well spring for our power, and to live the values that we hold so dear. but let us also remember that for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people as well as millions around the globe. we have done so because we know that our own future is safer, our own future is brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity. tonight, let us give thanks to the americans who are serving through these trying times and the coalition that is carrying
our effort forward. and let us look to the future with confidence and hope not only for our own country but for all those yearning for freedom around the world. thank you. god bless you. and may god bless the united states of america. ( applause ) thank you. >> ifill: that was president obama addressing the nation tonight on the crisis in libya. he spoke at the national defense university in washington d.c.. we'll have reaction to the speech on the newshour tomorrow. i'm gwen ifill. >> brown: and i'm geoffrey brown. we'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening. thank you and good night. captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions